One of the most intriguing books of poetry I’ve read and had the chance to discuss in the last few years is Lila Zemborain’s mauve sea-orchids...important for its aestheticism, for its erotics, for its contribution to an eco-poetics, and for the sheer physical delight of the book as book. I’m happy to be able to present a transcript of my March 3oth, 2008 conversation with Zemborain on and around this amazing book. The transcription was done by Danielle Vogel, now a Ph.D. student at the University of Denver.
Leonard Schwartz: Today’s guest is Lila Zemborain. She’s a poet from Argentina who’s been based in New York now for many years. Her new book is called mauve sea-orchids and it’s published by Belladonna* Books. About the work, Forrest Gander writes: “In mauve sea-orchids as in her striking earlier book Guardians of the Secret, Lila Zemborain brings into relationship the viscera of the body and the spill of the universe in tense compositions that blur distinctions between lyric and prose poetry, between science and eros.” Welcome, Lila Zemborain.
Lila Zemborain: Thank you very much for having me.
I first heard Raul Zurita read his poems on May 6th, 2010 at Poets House, on the occasion of the great Chilean poet’s visit to NY. The reading was from his book Purgatory, published in 1979 in Spanish and in 2010 by the University of California Press in translation by Anna Deeny, who was also on hand that evening to read her translations. Zurita’s reading moved me to the core. Others I spoke to after the reading were similarly astounded. In performance, Zurita’s visionary poetics proves its own language like none other. Since then I’ve called Zurita twice in Santiago, the first time to record him reading from Purgatory (CCP #219), the second time reading from Inri (CCP #234), translated by William Rowe and published by Marick Press.
From Zurita’s Inri:
Strange baits rain from the sky. Surprising bait falls falls upon the sea. Down below the ocean, up above unusual clouds on a clear day. Surprising baits rain on the sea. There was a love raining, there was a clear day that’s raining now on the sea.
In 1973, the U.S. backed military coup in Chile led to the eighteen year rule of the Pinochet regime.
Upon moving to Olympia, WA, in 2003 and starting up the radio program Cross Cultural Poetics, my first impression was that Seattle was a suburb of Cairo. That was because two of the first people I met in the area were Maged Zaher and Mohammed Metwalli, both émigré poets from Egypt's capital. They immediately made me feel part of a larger conversation about poetry that was happening amongst themselves and many other of Egypt's writers the next block over, in Egypt. How to resist the death grip and the officialdom of the Mubarak regime without opening the door to fundamentalist attitudes towards the poetic word that might suppress it? To what extent might the prose poem, and a flattening of the lyric, help to undermine a certain hyperbole perceived as problematic for the Arabic language? What is the most productive way to lay out a lineage of modern Egyptian poetry?